What age do dogs go grey? Stress highlights explained

What age do dogs go grey

At what age do dogs go grey? It depends. Some dogs never go gray, while others start to develop a salt and pepper grey muzzle as early as two years old.

Just like us, greying varies significantly in dogs. On average, though, you can expect to see some grey hairs on your dog at around five years old.

However, aging in dogs is slightly more complicated than aging in humans as breed type, and dog size is a factor in how senior your dog is.

How old is my dog?

Traditionally, the estimate of a dog’s age was seven dog years compared to one human year. So a five-year-old dog was the equivalent of 35 human years old.

However, a more accurate indicator based on life expectancy has replaced this view. Since a small dog’s life expectancy is longer than that of a large breed,  it means that old age in dogs varies. A dog is considered as old once they reach the last 25% of their expected lifespan.

A small dog with a life expectancy of 16 years is a senior dog at 12 years old. In contrast, a giant breed with a life expectancy of 8 years will reach senior status at 6 years old.

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Geriatric greying

A pigment called melanin determines our dog’s fur color. As our dogs age, the natural process of producing this pigment diminishes. Specialized cells called melanocytes found in the base of fur (or hair) follicles produce melanin which contains two pigments: eumelanin, a dark pigment, and phaeomelanin, a light pigment. When blended, they go to make up the rich and varied coat colors of our dogs.

Greying occurs because it’s thought that each hair follicle has a natural life cycle of melanocyte activity. Once the melanocyte cycle slows down or stops, the pigment in each of our dog’s hair follicles fades or disappears and leaves a white or grey strand behind.

Typically with geriatric greying, the dog’s muzzle usually shows the most notable change. At the same time, the rest of the coat may show very little.

The greatest reliable age recorded for a dog is 29 years 5 months for an Australian cattle dog named Bluey.

Premature graying in dogs

Although we can expect our dogs to start to go grey at around five, genetics play a significant role in whether your dog will go gray early. If you look at your parents and your grandparents, you will get a good idea of whether you will likely see early gray hairs appearing. Our dog’s genetic ancestry is just as crucial in determining whether your dog will lose their coat color at a young age.

There has also been research that shows a link between premature graying in dogs and anxious behaviors. Dogs with poor impulse control or dogs that showed anxiety to loud noises and unfamiliar stimuli were more likely to deliver premature graying ( under five years old ) than their more confident counterparts.

Progressive graying in dogs

Apart from premature graying, there is also something called progressive graying that is particular to some breeds.

A graying gene or, to be more accurate, a chromosome causes progressive graying. A dog that carries this particular gene may be born with black or dark fur but will get lighter as they age. Unlike geriatric graying, progressive graying affects the whole coat. Although the rate at which dogs go gray varies considerably, with some dogs staying dark around the muzzle, face, and mask markings for a long time.

Breeds that carry this gene, such as Schnauzers, Irish wolfhounds, and poodles, are born with dark fur but will progressively get lighter as they get older until they develop a gray coat.


At what age do dogs go grey?

It seems, just like us, that both genetics and stress play a significant role in determining whether our dogs develop grey hair.

It seems that a gray muzzle is no longer a good indicator of age but may, instead, be a more reliable indicator of stress and anxiety. Most of our dogs will start to get gray hair at around five years old, which is approximately forty of our years for a larger dog.

If you have any concerns about premature graying in an anxious dog, then consult your veterinarian, who can help or refer you to a behaviorist who can offer you advice on managing a fearful dog.